Managing Diabetes in Older Adults: A Dietary Guide

Managing Diabetes in Older Adults

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions of people around the world. In older adults, managing diabetes can be particularly challenging due to a range of factors such as reduced mobility, cognitive decline, and changes in dietary habits

However, with the right dietary strategies, it is possible for seniors with diabetes to maintain good health and enjoy a high quality of life. In this article, we’ll explore some effective dietary strategies for managing diabetes in older adults.

Older Adults and Diabetes

According to the World Health Organization, diabetes is a long-term medical condition that arises when there is inadequate production of insulin by the pancreas, or when the body is unable to use insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone responsible for regulating the level of glucose in the bloodstream. 

Uncontrolled diabetes frequently results in hyperglycemia, which is characterized by elevated levels of glucose in the blood. This condition can cause significant damage to numerous bodily systems, particularly the nerves and blood vessels, over an extended period.

According to the American Diabetes Association, there are 15.9 million seniors with diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes.  Additionally, there are numerous older Americans with “prediabetes,” according to the National Institute on Aging

Prediabetes indicates that their blood sugar levels are higher than typical but do not meet the criteria for a diabetes diagnosis. Individuals with prediabetes are at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

The Importance Of Diet In Managing Diabetes In Older Adults

According to The National Council On Aging, eating certain foods causes a rise in our blood glucose levels, which can be problematic for those with diabetes, as their bodies struggle to manage these spikes in blood sugar. 

If left unmanaged, older adults with diabetes are at risk of developing hyperglycemia, a state of dangerously high blood glucose levels that can lead to severe health issues, such as diabetic coma (ketoacidosis) and long-term diabetes complications like kidney disease, eye disease, and heart attacks.

However, by following a nutrient-dense diet plan that is low in fat and calories, you can maintain safe blood sugar levels and prevent health complications. Busy older adults may find it helpful to utilize meal kit delivery services or grocery delivery services that provide healthy meal kits and ingredients delivered straight to their door.

Dietary Strategies For Managing Diabetes In Older Adults

Effectively managing diabetes in older adults necessitates a multi-faceted approach. Among the critical components of living comfortably with diabetes is consuming a healthful diet. By being mindful of their dietary habits, individuals can help manage their condition, enhance their quality of life, and maintain their overall health

The American Diabetes Association states that the effects of different types of foods and diets on each person’s body vary widely, and therefore, there is no universally applicable “miracle” diet for diabetes.

Consulting with a registered dietitian enables you to develop a diet that meets your health goals, dietary preferences, and daily routine. The dietitian can also provide guidance on enhancing your eating habits, such as selecting portion sizes suitable for your size and level of physical activity.

What To Eat?

To get you started in planning a diabetic-friendly diet for yourself or your older loved ones, here are some recommended foods you must include on your meal plate, according to Mayo Clinic.

Foods To Eat

  1. Healthy carbohydrates

During digestion, sugars (simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbohydrates) break down into blood glucose. Focus on healthy carbohydrates, such as:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes, such as beans and peas
  • Low-fat dairy products, such as milk and cheese
  • Avoid less healthy carbohydrates, such as foods or drinks with added fats, sugars and sodium.
  1. Fiber-rich foods

Dietary fiber includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Fiber moderates how your body digests and helps control blood sugar levels. Foods high in fiber include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Legumes, such as beans and peas
  • Whole grains
  • Heart-healthy fish
  • Eat heart-healthy fish at least twice a week. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may prevent heart disease.

Avoid fried fish and fish with high levels of mercury, such as king mackerel.

Read Also: Fueling Healthy Aging with Fiber: The Ultimate Guide to Boosting Fiber Intake

  1. ‘Good’ fats

Foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower your cholesterol levels. These include:

  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Canola, olive and peanut oils
  • But don’t overdo it, as all fats are high in calories.

Foods To Avoid

Foods that have the following can work against your goal of a heart-healthy diet.

  • Saturated fats: High-fat dairy products and animal proteins, such as butter, beef, hot dogs, sausage, and bacon, should be avoided. Coconut and palm kernel oils should also be limited.
  • Trans fats: Processed snacks, baked goods, shortening, and stick margarine containing trans fats should be avoided.
  • Cholesterol: Individuals should consume no more than 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per day, which can be found in high-fat dairy products, high-fat animal proteins, egg yolks, liver, and other organ meats.
  • Sodium: The daily sodium intake should be less than 2,300 mg, and if an individual has high blood pressure, their doctor may recommend aiming for even less.

Read Also: Enhancing Flavor and Nutrition: The Benefits of Spices and Herbs in the Diet of Older Adults

Creating A Diabetic-Friendly Meal Plan: Choose Your  Method 

There are various methods that you can utilize to develop a diet plan for diabetes which can aid in maintaining normal blood glucose levels. By seeking assistance from a dietitian, you may discover that either one or a blend of the approaches listed below are effective for you.

1. The Diabetic Plate Method

The simplest approach to preparing nutritious meals that can assist in regulating blood sugar levels is through the use of the Diabetes Plate Method. By utilizing this method, you can create meals that are ideally portioned and contain a healthy combination of vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates – all without the need for counting, calculating, weighing, or measuring. The only tool required is a plate!

Image Source: American Diabetes Association – “ What is the Diabetes Plate Method”

1. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables: These low-carbohydrate vegetables have minimal impact on your blood sugar and are rich in nutrients. Some examples are:

  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Broccoli or cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber

2. Fill one-quarter of your plate with lean protein: Lean-protein foods are lower in saturated fat, which is better for your heart. Choose foods such as:

  • Chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of pork (e.g., tenderloin)
  • Eggs
  • Beans, hummus, and lentils
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Fish like tuna, cod, salmon, and tilapia
  • Cheese and cottage cheese

3. Fill one-quarter of your plate with carbohydrate foods: High-carbohydrate foods have the biggest impact on your blood sugar levels. Limiting them can help you prevent glucose spikes after meals. These foods include:

  • Starchy vegetables like green peas, potatoes, and acorn squash
  • Fruits (including dried fruit)
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal
  • Whole-grain products such as bread and pasta
  • Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products
  • Beans and legumes such as black beans and kidney beans

4. Choose water or a low-calorie drink: Water is the best thirst-quencher since it’s free of calories and carbs and doesn’t raise blood glucose levels. Other beverage options include:

  • Sparkling water
  • Diet soda and other diet drinks
  • Unsweetened tea, hot or iced
  • Unsweetened coffee, hot or iced

2. The Glycemic Index

The glycaemic index (GI) is a system that rates carbohydrates in food, indicating the speed at which they affect your blood sugar (glucose) levels when consumed individually. 

Here is the categorization based on the Glycemic Index.

High GI foods

Carbohydrate foods that are broken down quickly by your body and cause a rapid increase in blood glucose have a high GI rating. Some high GI foods are:

  • sugar and sugary foods
  • sugary soft drinks
  • white bread
  • potatoes
  • white rice

Low and medium GI foods

Low or medium GI foods are broken down more slowly and cause a gradual rise in blood sugar levels over time. Some examples are:

  • some fruit and vegetables
  • pulses
  • whole grain foods, such as porridge oats

This system can be advantageous for individuals with type 2 diabetes, as foods with low GI ratings can assist in managing blood glucose.

Nevertheless, it is essential to consider other factors as well. Studies have demonstrated that the quantity of carbohydrates you consume, not their GI rating, has the most significant impact on blood glucose levels following meals.

3. Carb Counting 

Keeping track of the carbohydrates, also known as carbs, in your meals, snacks, and beverages, is referred to as counting carbs. This approach can assist you in aligning your physical activity and medication with the food you consume. 

Counting carbs is a common practice among individuals with diabetes, as it can make blood sugar management more manageable and provide several other benefits, including:

  • Prolonged good health
  • Enhanced quality of life and well-being
  • Prevention or postponement of diabetes complications, such as kidney disease, heart disease, eye disease, and stroke

If you take insulin during mealtimes, you will need to count carbs to match your insulin dose to the number of carbs in your food and beverages. If your blood sugar is higher than your target when eating, you may also require additional insulin.

Carbohydrates are quantified in grams. You can find the total carbohydrate content in grams listed on the Nutrition Facts label of packaged foods. You may also consult a carb-counting app or reference list to determine the number of carbs in various foods and beverages.

When creating a meal plan for diabetes, one carb serving is typically equivalent to 15 grams of carbohydrates. It’s important to note that this may differ from your typical serving size of a particular food item. 

4. Choose Your Foods

A dietitian can advise you on selecting particular foods to assist you in planning your meals and snacks. Various food options can be found in categorized lists such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

A serving of a particular food category is referred to as a “choice.” 

Each food choice in a category has approximately the same amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and calories, and has a comparable impact on your blood glucose levels as every other food choice in that same category. 

For instance, the starch, fruit, and milk list consists of choices that contain 12 to 15 grams of carbohydrates.

For Further Information on Diabetes

American Diabetes Association


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


888-232-6348 (TTY)

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)


866-569-1162 (TTY)

Smokefree A60+                                                            

National Cancer Institute




Managing diabetes in older adults requires a multi-faceted approach that takes into account a range of factors such as mobility, cognition, and dietary habits. However, by making smart dietary choices, seniors with diabetes can maintain good health and enjoy a high quality of life. 

We hope that the tips and strategies outlined in this article will help you or your loved one manage diabetes effectively and live life to the fullest. Remember, it’s never too late to start making positive changes to your diet and lifestyle!

To learn more about the power of nutrition in managing chronic conditions, you may also visit our article on The Healing Power of Nutrition: The Role Of Diet In Managing Chronic Conditions Among Seniors.